PALONG KHALI, Bangladesh: The scene has played out with heartbreaking regularity as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled persecution in Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh: terrified knots of men, women and children crossing the swollen Naf River and waiting along the border for permission to cross.
On Thursday, at least 2,000 exhausted and starving people waited in rice paddy fields at one border crossing for Bangladesh border guards to let them enter. They have been waiting for two days and while they were given packets of food by aid groups, permission to enter eluded them.
So they waited, crouched in the muddy fields. The children carried younger siblings. The elderly were helped along by relatives. Without enough drinking water to go around, many people drank from the muddy canals around the fields.
Most of the refugees had walked for as many as 10 days before they were able to cross the river. Along the way, they said, they were robbed multiple times by Myanmar soldiers of what little cash they had and even belongings like plastic sheets.
All of them were hungry and exhausted. Some collapsed. Others wept as they clung to their children.
The exodus of Rohingya Muslims started Aug. 25 when insurgents attacked dozens of police posts in Myanmar.
The retribution from Myanmar’s authorities was swift and brutal.
Hundreds of Rohingya villages in Rakhine state have been set on fire. Fleeing Rohingya have told stories of arson and rape and shootings by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs.
The violence, which the U.N. describes as ethnic cleansing, has pushed more than 600,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.—AP